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Unicef picture of the year
FN Posted: Mon Dec 17 12:22:56 2007 Post | Quote in Reply

erikagm Posted: Mon Dec 17 19:51:47 2007 Post | Quote in Reply  
  On a totally unrelated note, I bet you're having a fit, Christophe...;_ylt=AnL14M5J.jv0RJkgUkIs1eIDW7oF

FN Posted: Tue Dec 18 12:39:20 2007 Post | Quote in Reply  
  I could literally fill a book on the federal entity which is belgium and the stuff that's going on right now, and a lot of people have and are, but I'll try and limit myself to this thing with the new miss:

I couldn't care less about miss belgium, but here's what I have to say about it if you ask me:

First, she's czech, but seems fully integrated (she lives in wallonia and knows french, if she lived in flanders and did not speak dutch i wouldn't count her as being integrated) so I don't agree with people attacking her on that part. Integrated = as much a citizen as I am as far as I'm concerned.

Also, in the article they misspelled the name of the newspaper (which itself is known as to be of mediocre quality and usually a socialist stronghold, which says a lot when even something as deeply socialist as that newspaper makes indirect separatist comments). It should be "het laatste nieuws", not "het laatste niuews". But I digress.

Indeed, she did not speak Dutch before she started the competition. This is common in the Walloon (french speaking) part of belgium; 95% of the flemish people can speak french good enough to pass as understandable if not always fluid; yet my experience and that of others I know tells me that the other way around perhaps 35% if that much of the wallonian part of belgium knows flemish/dutch. This is not something specific of her, it's an integral part of what the crisis is about and the attitudes and irritations that are behind it.

In extremely simple terms (too simple, but it gives you a slight idea, the whole thing is too complicated to write down during the time frame I want to dedicate to this post lol) this is the thing:

Belgium used to be ruled by a french elite that looked down upon the flemish speaking part; the power balance between the 2 linguistic sides shifted a little through history, sometimes the pendulum going one way, other times it went the other during medieval times.

During medieval times flanders was the dominant regional power because of its cloth industry and what not, and was even then under quasi constant attack from France but due to its economy won a few decisive battles (the battle of the golden spurs being the most remembered one here, it's still a national holiday), but during the industrial revolution the wallonian part took over in terms of economic might (wallonia is virtually next to the Ruhr valley in Germany, the german industrial center of gravity).

I don't really know how the US still experience this today, but the world wars still filter through in much of belgium's politics, much like they're still in the heads of many other european leaders/people.

The "modern" flemish movement has its roots in world war I, when most officers spoke french and most soldiers/cannon fodder were flemish, strangely enough...

This lead to revolts and all kinds of trouble and the interbellum was a rather troubled period as we all know, which also lead to the german nazi's during WWII finding a lot of flemish people (mind you: a lot, but not a majority by a long shot) siding with the germans during the occupation because germany promised the flemish speaking people, as "a germanic race", to have considerable autonomy, which was what people were after to get away from the constrains of the french speaking aristocracy.

Anyway, we all know how that went, the people who did side with the germans were either killed during the war/semi lynched after or still bear the stigma (this is also why the extreme right party, the flemish block (or flemish interest as it is called now) is demonized by a lot of people because it's founder was an ex-collaborator and many of its members also have ties with families that used to be collaborators/nazi sympathisants).

During the post-industrial revolution era and gradually after WWII a lot of the heavy indsutry localised in wallonia was closed, among other things because charcoal deposits getting thinned out and what not which was a big drive behind the industry of those days, the mines and all, and flanders took over in economic terms, with much thanks to the educational system and the "outward" look at the world by giving people the opportunity to know several languages and what not, while in wallonia the thought of the supremacy of only french still reigned and somehow reigns today as a lingering part of the former aristocracy.

Many problems followed, "the school struggle" being one of them, as in university and such people were forced into speaking french, in other words if you didn't know french during those days you couldn't get a decent education.

All of that changed, and now wallonia is one of the poorest regions in western europe, because of the heavy industry that went bottom up and also because of a few decades (almost continually from the end of the second world war up to the latest elections) of socialist rule, leading to a completely clientillistic and corrupt body of government and bad government with scandals popping up all the time and more and more during the last few years (which is also why for the first time in many years the socialists lost their position as biggest party in wallonia and were, slightly, topped by the wallonian liberals (again, keep in mind that european liberals are actual liberals, not socialists like US liberals).

The reason why wallonia is not living in eastern european ex-communist conditions is because of the billions of euro's in financial aid and social security flowing from flanders to wallonia every year (again, caused mostly because of socialist rule which kept people dependent on welfare and all the other stuff socialist government causes).

So that's where we are today and where the current problems begin and why even though elections were over half a year ago we still don't have a federal government.

A lot of flemish people are tired of the amount of money going to wallonia to support their welfare state, making taxes and what not going through the roof, combined with the wallonian unwillingness to stop voting for socialists who only deepen the problems and while refusing by and large to learn as much dutch/flemish as flemish people know french.

A lot of things, like taxes, immigration policy,... are decided on the federal level, and without wanting to get too technical about it, some stuff like notional intrest deduction for enterprises, social security,... and what not is stuff that both regions have very different views on, but the wallonian part is unwilling to budge on any of these issues because it'd mean they'd actually have to shape up and get those unemployment rates down, which is not something socialists will support, obviously.

same thing goes for immigration, flemish people in general have enough of it (2007 again is a record year in terms of immigrants to belgium, 1 in 5 belgians now has non-belgian roots, which isn't alarming per se since a lot of those immigrants come from other european nations, which I have no problem with) but due to their weight on the federal level (wallonians make up 40% of the belgians, flemish people 60%, but voting districts do not overlap and the parties are separate for both regions aside from a few highly debated areas) the wallonian socialists refuse to tighten immigration policy (because immigrants vote socialists, since that's where the welfare comes from. This is not merely opinion, but fact, mind you) and stuff like welfare payments.

Flanders wants more autonomy and threatens with separation, wallonia doesn't want to hear about it and lays claim to "the corridor" (brussels lies entirely in flemish territory but most of its population speaks french, so wallonia wants several towns in between "annexated" to wallonian rule to have a "french corridor" to brussels, which would also strenghten its claim on brussels if seperation did ensue some time during the future). In the corridor at this point some of the voting districts do overlap, which is a very technical and problematic thing, especially in Brussels, Halle and Vilvoorde where local politicians are either extremely pro-flemish or pro-wallonian. Recently a vote was passed autonomously by flanders (normally wallonia would also have to agree to something like this, but flanders decided it on its own) that in those 3 cities wallonian politicians could no longer campaign, which resulted in wallonian politicians going ballistic and calling in the "alarm bell procedure" which translates into things going to the national courts and what not.

It's not as simple as that, but still, I'll leave it at that for now in terms of the current political crisis, it's much more intricate than that, with nuances here and there that take a long time to adequately explain, but I think by this alone you can see that there are quite a few things that need to get sorted if the country is supposed to not split up. The current political crisis, caused by the wallonian part due to their refusal to talk about rearranging the federal rule, is only increasing the separatist support.

Anyway, but to miss belgium with all of this in mind:

She as well doesn't speak flemish/dutch, even though her mother is a teacher (who teaches, of all things, dutch as I heard today) and even though the rules supposedly state (not very sure but that's what I hear) that like politicians on the federal level people need to be at least moderately bilingual (as in french/dutch).

During the contest, which was aired live on television, contestants were asked questions in their other language (french speaking girls got questions in flemish and vice versa). She didn't understand the question which was asked of her in flemish, which lead to people in the crowd boo'ing and things like that which ended up in her not answering a question because the time ran out.

She did win the contest even though there were other better looking girls (also an interesting side note, of the 20 finalists for miss belgium, 7 were "non-belgian"). Who won was mainly decided by "televoting" (people calling in to vote). A lot of people have a feeling that a lot of her votes were mainly given to her by a wallonian crowd because she is from wallonia and because she doesn't speak dutch (during these tense times any excuse or means for provocation seems to do).

Whether this is indeed true or not is something I personally don't really feel like commenting on, I think it's absurd, but then again, seeing the situation as it is now I wouldn't be surprised at all either. I just caution people on both sides to not loose track and keep things in perspective because in times like these coincidences turn into a complot all too quickly.

In her defense: she's just one more symbol in the political crisis, her timing was bad and the televoting thing doesn't play in her favor, combined with her not speaking flemish even though her mother teaches dutch. But, I saw her in an interview yesterday I think where she said she had just started to study dutch when she entered the contest, and obviously it wasn't perfect but if she only started as recently as she did I applaud her on at least being able to somewhat express herself already, but I also am of the idea that now is not the time and the harm is already done if you will.

Should she step down?

I couldn't care less and wish her all the best and hope she realizes that the fuss is not about her as a person per se.

The political crisis itself; I'm no expert but I'm pretty informed about it, and personally I don't see any solution to it, especially in the long term. I predict separation in 1 or 2 decades at most with most of the political power getting shifted to both the european and regional level. It's a trend that's seen all over the world (scotland, ireland, basque country, the balkans, cyprus,...) , and given history I have nothing against dispersed bodies of government united in a largel central power that takes care of security and things like that.

FN Posted: Tue Dec 18 12:40:01 2007 Post | Quote in Reply  
  Wall of text

FN Posted: Tue Dec 18 12:59:19 2007 Post | Quote in Reply  
  Also, if you see this on a news site or something (it was on ABC apparantly) and they say that "her knowing several languages doesn't count for much apparantly" (like in the small video in the article) then keep in mind that 1) that's not the point and 2) most flemish people also know french/english and german next to dutch, so no, it isn't that overly impressive.

~Just Imagine~ Posted: Tue Dec 18 15:38:20 2007 Post | Quote in Reply  
  I like the way you explained it, Feels like I'm again more able to follow what is happening... Thanks for the resumé ;)

Belgium must seem so confusing seen from another country,...

And like you said, we all speak more languages, so its not that impressive of her.
I speak dutch, french, german, english, and have a basis in spanish as well. And I believe its very important to be able to express yourself in more then one language...

Maybe a guestion to all of you (americans most of it, I guess)

If you speak only one language, do you feel this is a handicap or couln't you just care less?

erikagm Posted: Tue Dec 18 22:18:54 2007 Post | Quote in Reply  
  For someone that said the he was decidedly uninterested in the topic, you sure as heck posted a whooole buncha stuff!!!

And just to remind you, Christophe, I'm not american, I'm mexican ;)

And to ~Just Imagine~

When I was a child (For I once was) I did feel constrained to know only one language while I was just learning english, because I lived in a tourist town (Puerto Vallarta, a beach town) and I felt really impeded to communicate with the whole bunch of people that came down, and I was especially frustrated since my parents are both bilingual and I wasn't. (My mother used to be able to also speak French since her grandmother is from Marseilles, but she didn't practice and lost it)

Having said that, Today I still feel impeded by only knowing 2 languages semi-fully: Spanish, my native tongue, and english, my second language. Granted, I can pretty much read/understand anything in portuguese, french, italian and even some german, but it is nothing compared to being able to speak it fluently.

ifihadahif Posted: Wed Dec 19 08:05:33 2007 Post | Quote in Reply  
  ~Just Imagine~ said:
>Maybe a guestion to all of you (americans most of it, I guess)
>If you speak only one language, do you feel this is a handicap or couln't you just care less?
Most Americans get taught a second language in their schooling, but lose it as they get on with their lives.
We almost never get an opportunity to use a second language as we are pretty much a one langauge country.

Most Europeans don't understand the size of the United states.

It takes a week of hard driving to get from coast to coast here and you won't find a non-english speaking community anywhere.

I know that in Europe you can visit several countries with different languages spoken in just a matter of days.

jennemmer Posted: Wed Dec 19 14:58:35 2007 Post | Quote in Reply  
  I am a native English speaker but having grown up in Canada I had the opportunity to go through school in a French Immersion program, meaning that all of my classes were taught in French.

I have found it a bit strange living in the US, not to be able to understand the second language I hear, that being Spanish (The workers at the apartment complex, people in Mexican restaurants, and the employees of most fast food restaurants for that matter. There is a lot of it). I didn't realize how much I had taken being able to understand all of the people around me for granted.

Mesh Posted: Wed Dec 19 17:09:05 2007 Post | Quote in Reply  
  I've been picking up on spanish ok. I can't talk back in spanish for shit, though.

I'm thinking I will take a class or, better yet, have one of my best friends who is from mexico tutor me. I'd like to learn it, since half the people here speak it.

Being a polyglot is nice.

addi Posted: Wed Dec 19 17:13:51 2007 Post | Quote in Reply  
  Wisenheimer said:

>Being a polyglot is nice.

There's a special place for polyglots in heaven

right next to the monoglots

Kira Posted: Wed Dec 19 21:31:44 2007 Post | Quote in Reply  
  It does bother me that I don't speak other languages, but that's only because I love words and language and reading so much. As far as being able to communicate in my own community, I've never been concerned about being limited to English. And I have no immediate plans to travel anywhere that English is not commonly spoken.

I've taken classes in Spanish and French, without a great deal to show for it. I can make out about half of what I read in Spanish, but I cannot speak it or understand it being spoken.

mat_j Posted: Fri Jan 4 05:11:37 2008 Post | Quote in Reply  
  Christophe said
again, keep in mind that european liberals are actual liberals, not socialists like US liberals).

I've heard you say this before, what do you actually mean by this?

FN Posted: Fri Jan 4 18:13:51 2008 Post | Quote in Reply  
  I remembered when in the early days of my more in depth interest in politics I came across something on wikipedia, and it's still there, so I'll just copy paste it because it does a good job at explainign what I try to say with the difference in "actual liberals" and american ones :)

"Overview of political positions of contemporary liberal parties.

Today the word "liberalism" is used differently in different countries. (See Liberalism worldwide.) One of the greatest contrasts is between the usage in the United States and usage in Continental Europe.[17] In the US, liberalism is usually understood to refer to modern liberalism, as contrasted with conservatism. American liberals endorse regulation for business, a limited social welfare state, and support broad racial, ethnic, sexual and religious tolerance, and thus more readily embrace Pluralism, and affirmative action.

In Europe, on the other hand, liberalism is not only contrasted with conservatism and Christian Democracy, but also with socialism and social democracy. In some countries, European liberals share common positions with Christian Democrats."

"Free market

Main article: Economic liberalism

Economic liberals today stress the importance of a free market and free trade, and seek to limit government intervention in both the domestic economy and foreign trade. Modern liberal movements often agree in principle with the idea of free trade, but maintain some skepticism, seeing unrestricted trade as leading to the growth of multi-national corporations and the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few. In the post-war consensus on the welfare state in Europe, liberals supported government responsibility for health, education, and alleviating poverty while still calling for a market based on independent exchange. Liberals agree that a high quality of health care and education should be available for all citizens, but differ in their views on the degree to which governments should supply these benefits. Since poverty is a threat to personal liberty, liberalism seeks a balance between individual responsibility and community responsibility. In particular, liberals favor special protection for the handicapped, the sick, the disabled, and the aged.[19]

European liberalism turned back to more laissez-faire policies in the 1980s and 1990s, and supported privatisation and liberalisation in health care and other public sectors. Modern European liberals generally tend to believe in a smaller role for government than would be supported by most social democrats, let alone socialists or communists. The European liberal consensus appears to involve a belief that economies should be decentralized. In general, contemporary European liberals do not believe that the government should directly control any industrial production through state owned enterprises, which places them in opposition to social democrats."

What it basicly comes down to is this:

US liberals are what in Europe would be considered a leftist mix of christian democrats and socialists.

European liberals on the other hand is what is referred to as "classical liberalism" => the original form if you will, which is why I refer to european liberals as "true" liberals.

I for one am about as "hardcore" a classical liberal (libertarian even to some degree) that you're likely to encounter on your travels along the road of life, probably because of my upbringing, personal experience and the deductions I make on my own about the world as it is.

For me it goes beyond mere politics; liberalism is not just a political ideology, it's also a philosophical one, and something I believe in. I'd go as far as stating that it even is, without wanting to sound corny, a way of life, which consists of the belief in personal merrit, responsibility and freedom, and the striving for the renaissance ideal of the "universal man" as much as possible in between the subjects which interest me the most.

It's strange, but I really think I was born a liberal, my basic ideas and convictions have changed very little since as early as I can remember, and once I stumbled upon the idea of "liberalism" as it was already established, I was happy to see that there were others like me out there :)


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